Monday, February 29, 2016

Snow White and the Handsome King

When you think about Walt Disney's classic animated feature fim Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, what images come to mind?

Snow White. Check.
Dwarfs. Check.
Evil Queen. Check.
Huntsman. Check.
Cute Animals. Check.
Handsome Prince. Check.
Handsome King.

Pause. What "handsome king"?

Many months ago, I wrote a blog post about finding a vintage original program from the 1937 premiere of Snow White in Los Angeles. On the cover was a montage of all the main characters, including the Handsome King.

Do you see him?


Okay, scroll down a little bit. 

There he is. The horse who served as the model for the Prince's steed was the Arabian stallion King John.

King John was one of a number of Arabian horses owned by cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg in the 1930s. Kellogg kept his large herd of Arabians at his ranch outside Los Angeles. Hollywood celebrities visited often and had their pictures taken at the stables. King John was one of several Kellogg horses that ended up in the movies. 

Actually, King John's life story sounds not unlike the plot of a film. Foaled in the desert, King John was taken to Cairo where he was a polo pony and later a race horse. He was imported to the U.S. in 1929, where he had a career as a show horse.

The W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library's Facebook page notes:

[King John] was sold to the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Ranch in 1931. King John appeared in many Hollywood films, such as "The Scarlett Empress" (1934), "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935), "The Garden of Allah" (1936), and "Suez" (1938), alongside famous actors and actresses like Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, and Loretta Young. 

King John and Marlene Dietrich.

As well-known and well-loved as he was, King John sometimes took a publicity back seat to other horses from the Kellogg Ranch. The most famous of the Kellogg Ranch movie horses was Jadaan, ridden by silent film icon Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik.  King John was listed as the stablemate of another Kellogg Arabian, Pep, in this April 1932 clipping from the Chino Champion newspaper. 

You may have noticed that the artist's rendition of King John and the other characters from Snow White don't look quite like the ones in the animated film. That's because they were drawn by concept artist and children's book illustrator Gustaf Tenggren. The website Filmic Light, source of All Things Snow White, tells Tenggren's story:

A YouTube user has cobbled together several classic film scenes that show Arabian horses. Some of the film clips are from The Garden of Allah, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, and Son of the Sheik.  (The latter features another Kellogg Arabian of the same era, Jadaan, ridden by Rudolph Valentino.)

King John spent many years at Kellogg's Arabian horse farm. And in October 1941, the city of Redlands, California, presented him with an appreciative resolution. The San Bernardino County Sun noted:

Now 19 years old, King John once was acclaimed the fastest horse in Egypt, where he was bred by desert tribesmen... His beauty and intelligence have earned great prominence....

King John died in 1946 at age 24. He's buried near the Rose Garden on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona.

And I have donated my copy of the original Snow White program to the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library, to complement their archive of printed and photographic materials on King John, his travels and his career.


Sidebar: You may not think you've ever seen Tenggren's art before, but you probably have, if you were born after about 1942. After he left Disney, Gustaf Tenggren illustrated many more children's books, including The Poky Little Puppy.

Here's a copy of my original blog post about the 1937 Snow White premiere program:

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